Though the famed horticulturist Luther Burbank took part in the event as early as 1914, the annual tradition began in 1894 with the first Rose Carnival. It continued until 1926 when it was canceled due to Burbank’s death, shortly before the festival. A longer hiatus was observed during the World Wars.
The Junior Chamber of Commerce ‘Jaycees’ revived the event in 1950, renaming it in honor of Burbank. It has been held every year since and always with a parade. Many elements have changed over the years. The original affairs offered the grandeur of coronation balls and the pageantry of royal courts; later versions offered regattas, bicycle and running races, fireworks and tennis. The parade, though, has always been the central activity.
Since its rebirth in 1950 the parade has become an annual event on the third Saturday in May, drawing a strong showing of local school marching bands, floats built by community and service organizations, equestrian teams, and units honoring local veterans.
Festival activities, particularly fun and games for children, became a larger part of the day with the 100th anniversary event in 1994.
The Luther Burbank Rose Parade & Festival became a formal tax-exempt corporation in 1994 after the last of its parent organizations disbanded. Community members, determined to keep the annual tradition alive, formed a 12-member board of directors. The volunteer group works year-round to produce the event, which meets an annual budget of $100,000 through sponsorships, grants, and parade and vendor fees.